‘Reply Box No 666’ — “The Champions”

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062551/]

“Craig Ster­ling, Shar­ron Macready and Richard Bar­rett These are the Champions. 

“Endowed with the qual­i­ties and skills of super­hu­mans — qual­i­ties and skills, both phys­i­cal and men­tal, to the peak of human per­for­mance. Gifts giv­en to them by an unknown race of peo­ple, when their ‘plane crashed near a lost civil­i­sa­tion in Tibet. Now, with their secrets known only to them, they are able to use their fan­tas­tic pow­ers to their best advan­tage as the Cham­pi­ons of law, order and jus­tice. Oper­a­tors of the inter­na­tion­al agency, Nemesis!”

“The Cham­pi­ons” was a British tele­vi­sion (ITC) pro­duc­tion, star­ring three indi­vid­u­als, Craig Stir­ling (Stu­art Damon), Shar­ron Macready (Alexan­dra Baste­do) and Richard Bar­rett (William Gaunt), all of whom work for a NATO law enforce­ment orga­ni­za­tion named Neme­sis (this being the Cold War era) and its head, Tremayne (Antho­ny Nicholls). who was not aware of the pecu­liar abil­i­ties of his three best agents. On their first mis­sion in Com­mu­nist Chi­na, their plane was shot down over Tibet, where they were res­cued by mem­bers of an advanced, hid­den civ­i­liza­tion and returned to full health and beyond. Their treat­ment gave them extra­or­di­nary phys­i­cal and men­tal abil­i­ties: enhanced sens­es, strength and reflex­es, supe­ri­or intel­lect, a lim­it­ed pre­cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty and a psy­chic link between them, among oth­er things they were then unaware of.

Some of the episodes involved ele­ments of hyp­no­sis and mind con­trol, but episode ‘Reply Box No 666’ stands out because of the hyp­no­sis scene involv­ing Macready as the seduc­tive (appro­pri­ate­ly enough, as she did seduce her sub­ject back to her room pri­or to the induc­tion) hypnotist. 

Cap­sule Descrip­tion: In ‘Reply Box No 666’, the plot involves a dead Russ­ian agent and a mys­te­ri­ous mes­sage that Tremayne believes is a cod­ed sig­nal, and so he sends his best agents to the Caribbean to inves­ti­gate. Stir­ling imper­son­ates the agent while Macready and Bar­rett inves­ti­gate under­cov­er, but noth­ing goes quite as planned. Stir­ling’s cov­er is blown and he is shot and thrown out of an air­plane, sur­viv­ing sev­er­al hours in the Caribbean waters only (appar­ent­ly) because of his enhanced sta­mi­na. Macready and Bar­rett have to com­plete the mis­sion them­selves and res­cue Stir­ling, but at the end, the find Stir­ling does­n’t need the rescue.

Descrip­tion: Neme­sis tracks down the loca­tion of the store that placed the mes­sage and Stir­ling makes con­tact. There he meets the oth­ers. They leave in a plane, search­ing areas around Jamaica from the air for what Stir­ling is not told. At the same time, Macready and Bar­rett are inves­ti­gat­ing the store and mak­ing sure the real replace­ment does­n’t show up, respec­tive­ly, only to have the real replace­ment show up at the store while Macready is present: her psy­chic abil­i­ties enable her to rec­og­nize him.

Unable to warn Stir­ling, the store own­er alerts the peo­ple on the plane and, after try­ing to sub­due the oth­ers and forced to sta­bi­lize the plane, Stir­ling is shot and thrown out of the plane, land­ing in the ocean.  Its now all up to Macready and Bar­rett to com­plete the mis­sion and res­cue Stir­ling. Macready uses her psy­chic con­nec­tion with Stir­ling, one of her indi­vid­ual abil­i­ties, to under­stand Stir­ling is still alive and in trou­ble, and tri­an­gu­lates his position.

Lat­er, Bar­rett notices anoth­er of the for­eign agents, some­one he rec­og­nized from when he was watch­ing Stir­ling at the store. Macready and Bar­rett then split up, Macready to see what she can learn from the agent while Bar­rett returns to search the store. While Macready lures the agent up to her room, Bar­rett begins to search the store, only to have the own­er return and force Bar­rett into hid­ing. Mean­while, Macready is hyp­no­tiz­ing the agent.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, she gets lit­tle out of the agent. For­tu­nate­ly, Bar­rett had much bet­ter luck, get­ting a look at agents’ map of their search pat­tern. The next day, they hire an air­craft to search the same areas, seek­ing out what the oth­er agents are search­ing for and hunt­ing for Stir­ling. Stir­ling, on the oth­er hand, has dis­cov­ered what every­one in search­ing for: the wreck of an advanced air­craft that a for­eign pow­er want­ed destroyed so it would­n’t fall into NATO hands. Except that both par­ties arrived at the crash site at the same time, and three Cham­pi­ons were more than what two ordi­nary agents could handle.

Com­men­tary: Yes, the hyp­no­sis scene is very stereo­typ­i­cal, but stereo­typ­i­cal is the norm for this series.

Giv­en the series premise and his­to­ry, it appears that each of the three Cham­pi­ons have their own indi­vid­ual spe­cial­ties: one has to won­der whether Macready’s includes a form of tele­path­ic hyp­no­sis? She dis­plays a psy­chic sense that allows her to locate Stir­ling when he was strand­ed, and she does share the tri­o’s tele­path­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion abil­i­ty, so maybe there are oth­er skills there wait­ing to be shown? As this was only the third episode shown, and hav­ing not seen all of the episodes, fur­ther skills might be indicated.

The series was also remark­able for using three leads, as opposed to the sin­gle lead or the two ‘bud­dy’ lead series. (There is some­thing Freudi­an about the three lead trope, espe­cial­ly here: Bar­rett is the Ego, ana­lyt­i­cal and care­ful; Stir­ling is the Super­ego, active and force­ful and Macready is the Id, the instinc­tive seat of sex­u­al­i­ty. Well, sort of.) This was one of the first appear­ances of this arrange­ment in a tele­vi­sion series and it set such a suc­cess­ful pat­tern that is still in use today.

His­to­ry: “The Cham­pi­ons” was cre­at­ed by Den­nis Spoon­er, who was also involved with sev­er­al oth­er ITC pro­duc­tions. A script writer and sto­ry edi­tor, he was a main­stay in many mem­o­rable BBC and ITC pro­duc­tions. He also worked exten­sive­ly with Ger­ry and Sylvia Ander­son, writ­ing for “Fire­ball XL5”, “Stingray”, “Thun­der­birds” and “UFO”. How­ev­er, his most sig­nif­i­cant writ­ing accom­plish­ment would be when he wrote for “Doc­tor Who” in the Hart­nell era, when he wrote ‘The Time Med­dler’: this was the first episode with anoth­er Time Lord (oth­er than Susan, although the Time Lords were not iden­ti­fied as such by title until lat­er) and was the first episode to involve a ‘shad­ow sto­ry’ behind the real his­tor­i­cal events, where the Doc­tor was pit­ted against an alien foe attempt­ing to alter his­to­ry. That trope would become a con­stant plot for the rest of the series.

“The Cham­pi­ons”, like many ITC series, was prone to a num­ber of fail­ings, most notably the pri­ma­ry use of stock footage and the Elstree Stu­dios (a gener­ic name for a com­plex of dif­fer­ent stu­dios) back­lots for many of the sets. There­fore, there were three episodes set aboard sub­marines and three were set in the Arc­tic or Antarc­tic. The sto­ries and the writ­ing, too, were of vary­ing qual­i­ty, most­ly strict­ly aver­age and pedes­tri­an in nature. The plots also ranged from espi­onage to mys­ter­ies to the super­nat­ur­al, a rather con­flict­ing com­bi­na­tion. How­ev­er, oth­ers see it differently:

THE CHAMPIONS is bright, cheer­ful, rarely dull, often excit­ing and occa­sion­al­ly excep­tion­al (‘The Inter­ro­ga­tion’) which is more than you can say for many of its con­tem­po­raries. It also set the tem­plate for lat­er shows such as THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. — Sci Fi Freak Site

Rec­om­men­da­tion: The hyp­no­sis scene is worth watch­ing, and the episode is inter­est­ing, but only diehard fans of the genre would be real­ly inter­est­ed in the series as a whole.

Resources:

Triv­ia:

  • The foun­tain shown in the open­ing cred­its is in Lac Leman, Gene­va. The footage is from the pro­duc­er’s hol­i­day home movies.
  • The Neme­sis build­ing is actu­al­ly the Direc­torate of Tech­ni­cal Ser­vices and Direc­torate of Hous­ing and Envi­ron­men­tal Ser­vices. It is not in Gene­va, but in the Lon­don Bor­ough of Barnet.
  • Antho­ny Nicholls wore a false beard and hair­piece play­ing Tremayne.
  • Alexan­dra Baste­do was no stranger to espi­onage: pri­or to “The Cham­pi­ons” she appeared in “Casi­no Royale” (1967).
  • Stu­art Damon won a Best Sup­port­ing Actor Emmy Award for play­ing the part of Dr. Alan Quar­ter­maine on the day­time soap “Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal” in 1999, hold­ing a total of sev­en nominations.

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